Katia Moskvitch

BBC sci/tech/8658777.stm
2010/05/04 20:16:16 GMT

With Russian science not at its best since the break-up of the USSR,
Moscow is now attempting to follow an example from its Soviet past.

It plans to co-operate with nations from the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS) - made up of former Soviet republics -
in the areas of nanotechnology and innovation.

An organisation with a grand-sounding name, International Innovative
Nanotechnology Centre (IINC) of the CIS countries, has been set up
in Dubna, just outside Moscow.

The place is intended to propel Russian science to the heights it
once enjoyed, by turning the fruits of pure research by scientists
in the former Soviet states into real-life products.

" I think that the purpose of setting up this centre is first
and foremost to address the areas where we have problems - we
lack specialists both in fundamental and applied sciences " Valery
Khomyakov National Strategy Council This year, Russia has assumed the
rotating presidency of the CIS and declared 2010 a year of science
and innovation in the territory uniting eleven of the former Soviet

These are: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

But observers note that the CIS has always been a rather symbolic
organisation, incapable of delivering any real results, and the
establishment of the new centre is "more about appearance than

Some call it a "political move" intended to allow Russia to benefit
from the best scientific minds of its neighbours.

Riverside city

It takes a couple of hours by train to get from Moscow to Dubna,
a picturesque city on the banks of the Volga river.

Dubna is famous for the second-biggest Lenin monument still standing,
at 25m in height.

But it is also known for its scientific institutes. Russians call
it "naukograd" - "science city" - which has one of the densest
concentrations of scientists from all over the country - and from
abroad as well.

And it is here, in the pavilions amid the snow-covered woods of Dubna,
at the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research (JINR) - an organisation
much like Cern (The European Organization for Nuclear Research) where
the 117th element of the periodic table was discovered in early April -
that the Russian government has created the IINC.

This place appeared years after the era of Sputnik, lasers and Nobel
laureates, had come to a standstill with the collapse of the Soviet
Union in 1991.

When the USSR fell, funding for science dwindled resulting in a
brain drain as many of the most skilled specialists took up offers
from abroad.

Here in Dubna, scientists from different CIS states are working
side-by-side, regardless of any political differences and conflicts
their countries might have.

"Yes, there are sometimes jokes about us, but never anything serious,
everyone gets along really well. The political problems like gas
issues between Russia and Ukraine don't touch us here at all," says
Victor Petrenko, a young researcher from Kiev.

New industry?

Mr Petrenko works with special liquids that have magnetic properties.

By injecting them into the human brain, it becomes possible to localise
and remove cancer cells. It's all done on nano-scale.

In October last year, the Russian government announced plans to inject
318bn roubles (US$11bn) into the development and commercialisation
of nanotechnologies. The state has already spent some 94bn roubles
on this area over the past two years.

The money is being used to upgrade old facilities and set up new ones.

Russia's leading centre for nuclear physics, the Kurchatov Institute -
also in Dubna - recently opened a new centre for nano-sciences with
an upgraded synchrotron radiation machine.

" It is always nice to know that your work won't lie under a thick
layer of dust on library shelves, but it will be the basis of some
technological development " Andrei Tamonov Physicist At the JINR,
state money was used to repair and upgrade the world's most powerful
pulsed neutron reactor.

All these efforts are intended to create a domestic nanotech industry
by 2015, in order to reduce Russia's dependence on oil and gas exports.

Funding organisations like Rusnano give grants to companies with
promising proposals, and now Russian officials are even talking about
setting up Russia's own version of the US Silicon Valley near Moscow.

Although Russia is currently investing in nanotechnology almost as
much as the US and Europe, it is still lagging behind in terms of
producing real-world products.

And this is what the IINC is all about, says the centre's head
Alexandre Ruzaev. He explains that the main goal of this institute
is the path from concept to final innovation - the commercialisation
of scientific achievements of specialists from the former Soviet

Necessary motivation

"There was a political decision by the Russian authorities and
the governments of the CIS states to stimulate the integration in
the areas of science and innovations. There are similar problems
related to innovation in the CIS countries as there are in Russia,
but they're even more serious because of limited financial resources
there," said Mr Ruzaev.

"We decided to use the commercialisation aspect of scientific and
technological developments. It lets the CIS states get involved in
what's happening in Russia and in Europe and also lets us strengthen
our positions in the CIS countries."

The researchers at IINC believe that the centre can help improve
the state of science in the CIS countries by giving scientists the
motivation to work.

It's not about the money, they add - the average monthly salary here
is equivalent to some $350 excluding grants. In their native countries
it is often even less.

Physicist Andrei Tamonov from Russia thinks that the "true" motivation
comes from knowing that people will indeed put the results of your
theoretical work into practice.

"It is always nice to know that your work won't lie under a thick
layer of dust on library shelves, but it will be the basis of some
technological development," he explained.

His Ukrainian colleague Elena Kazima agrees: "Commercialisation
means financial output, which implies the creation of better working
conditions. That, in turn, will motivate young people to go into

"Young people aren't very demanding, you know - they just need
at least some decent working conditions. In Ukraine people want to
work in science, they have ideas, but they're forced to go elsewhere
because there are absolutely no decent working conditions whatsoever."

Young scientists

Yuri Khaidukov, a young physicist from Kazakhstan, works with magnetic
nanoparticles used to store memory in computers, memory cards and
other devices.

He says that the creation of the IINC doesn't involve a brain drain
from his homeland. On the contrary, he believes that it's a great
way to support science there and to help researchers from the former
Soviet states make their voices heard.

"I wouldn't call it "brain drain"; it's rather a rotation of the
work force. I left my country, but I still remember where I was born,
I remember all the scientific institutes there -and I still keep in
touch with them. Now, thanks to me, there's a special relationship
between Dubna and Almaty (in Kazakhstan)," said Yuri.

But analyst Valery Khomyakov, the head of the National Strategy Council
think tank, says the creation of IINC is a political move as well,
meant to enable Russia to harness the best scientific minds in the
post-Soviet states.

"Of course, it's mostly about strengthening our own scientific
potential than helping anyone else. I think that the purpose of
setting up this centre is first and foremost to address the areas
where we have problems - we lack specialists both in fundamental and
applied sciences," said Mr Khomyakov.

Masha Lipman, an analyst from the Carnegie Moscow Centre think tank,
says that whatever the driving force behind the IINC's creation is,
such an organisation won't and can't help Russian science.

"We can hardly expect this centre to produce breakthrough innovations
or scientific achievements. Just like many CIS structures, I think
this is more about appearance than substance," she said.

"Russian science is not in great shape these days, this is to say
the least, and it would probably benefit from collaboration with
more developed countries, not with the countries that are inferior to
Russia - economically, in terms of science, in terms of organisation
and such like."

As for the young scientists from the CIS states, they say they're
glad the IINC gives them jobs - and the hope of a brighter future.